In this post, I will explore potential causes of this mental health disorder as well as recommend some proven remedies. A variety of causes have been posited for teenage depression.
One of these includes a basic deficiency in emotional coping skills due, in part, to over-protective/over-compensatory (“helicopter”) parents. Another is a pervasive sense of entitlement, along with the inevitable disappointments that come with life that may trigger a downward psychological spiral (as my friend, Sean Jones, LCSW, Director of Crisis Services at CAREY Counseling Center, insightfully suggests).
Other common causes may include “loss of a loved one, social isolation, major life changes, trauma as a result of abuse, or conflicts in personal relationships. However, today’s teens also face issues that were unknown to past generations” (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/).
Let’s explore a few of these newer problematic issues that are unique to millennials, also known as Generation Y or Generation Z (or also the “iGeneration”).
First is the inescapable – and often toxic – effect of social media. This societal development represents a major source of anxiety, pressure, and—ironically—relational disconnection for adolescents. Teenagers’ online persona and identity (as opposed to their real life identity) has become a significant concern for many, if not most, young people. There is a tendency for kids to compare their lives to those individuals they follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Buzzfeed. Due to the hyped-up, facade-driven nature of these sites, young people often have a dissatisfied view of their own lives that don’t seem to measure up to the seemingly glamorous, adventurous and exciting lives of those around them.
Second, related to the first is smartphone usage. Research has discovered significant correlations between the overdependence on cellphones by teenagers and symptoms of depression. Excessive use or addiction to technology undermines and damages authentic relationships, distracts from educational pursuits, and sidetracks wholesome extracurricular activities. It is a time zapper and an emotional black hole.
Third, although academic pressure has always been a significant factor for a large percentage of young people, the added challenges of our unstable economy, exorbitant costs associated with higher education, unrealistic societal expectations surrounding every young people’s need to earn a college degree, stiff competition for college admittance, and limited available scholarships, contributes to depression in adolescents.
Fourth, as a whole, teenagers today possess fewer coping skills. Parents these days are many times in the unwise habit of attempting to shield their children from experiencing any type of failure or personal disappointment whatsoever. We live in a culture in which “no kid is left behind” and “everyone gets a trophy—win or lose.” When parents over-function by constantly running to their teens’ rescue, the kids will intuitively strike a balance to this unhealthy dynamic by under-functioning. Coddling our teenagers will hamper their growth and hurt them in the long run. Young people are thus debilitated due to their lack of opportunity to learn from their own mistakes, build sufficient resilience and develop a thicker hide (mental toughness), so necessary for handling life’s challenges.
Fifth, there is nature deficit disorder. Young people today spend so much of their time fixated on their phone screens, tablet screen, computer screens, and TV screens, that they simply don’t get outside enough. Rich Louv coined the phrase, “nature deficit disorder,” in his book, Last Child in the Woods (2005). Being immersed in nature is re-creative and serves as an antidote for erosion of the soul, where it is able to decompress, “air-out” and be restored. However, since “teens and children are spending less time outdoors, they experience a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems” (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/).
When it comes to viable remedies for teenage depression, it is important to take a holistic approach. While anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications may be a necessary component of a treatment plan, professional psychotherapy (or “talk therapy”) is at least equally important.
Moreover, studies have consistently shown that depression can be reduced, even prevented, through a consistent exercise routine. In fact, it has been found that 30 minutes of exercise three to five times weekly goes a long way toward combatting depression and anxiety (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495).
Proper nutrition and a healthy “diet can be a powerful method for relieving teen depression. In a study known as the SMILES Trial (Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States), one-third of participants experienced remission from depressive symptoms after three months of a healthy diet. Good nutrition is very healing” (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/).
In a review study conducted at Johns Hopkins, it was discovered that meditation is a very effective strategy for treating teenage anxiety and depression, in some cases just as effective as medication. As it turns out, “Meditation reduces depression by calming the nervous system and reducing ‘wandering mind,’ which is associated with unhappiness” (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/).
It is my firm belief that one of the absolute best preventative strategies and treatments for teenage depression is for young people to find ways to get out of themselves and serve others. When teenagers shift their eyes off their own personal problems and focus on meeting the needs of those around them, they are able to redirect their energy resources and find a sense of meaning, purpose and spiritual hope. Service projects, mission trips, helping the elderly, visiting children’s wards in hospitals, helping out siblings or neighbors, or volunteering at a soup kitchen are just a few ways to accomplish this service-oriented endeavor. These activities also build a greater sense self-competency in young people and enhanced relational skills. In this way, it’s a “Win-Win” solution for everyone!
(This article originally appeared in The Jackson Sun on March 15, 2019.)